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Delay Looms for CAR Elections Next Year

United Nations peace keeping troops take part in a ceremony in the capital city of Bangui, Central African Republic, Sept. 15, 2014.

Mediators in the Central African Republic say it will not be possible to hold national elections by February 2015, the date set last year. The government is now looking at a date in July, though observers say that also will be a challenge.

The announcement about elections came after a meeting in Bangui of the International Contact Group for the Central African Republic, a body including senior representatives of the U.N., AU, United States, European Union, France and countries in the Central African region.

In a communiqué at the end of the meeting on Tuesday, Republic of Congo Foreign Affairs Minister Basile Ikouebe, the contact group’s spokesman, said there has been progress in recent weeks toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Talks have been ongoing since a rebel group seized power in March 2013.

"But," he said, "the group thinks the deadline of next February for holding elections is technically unachievable."

The government has since announced it aims to hold the vote by July. A diplomatic source described the new deadline as tight, but possible.

Questions abound

Central African political analyst Didier Kallanda questions whether it can be met.

"Before people can go to the polls," he said, "there needs to be a minimum level of security. And currently, with many people displaced by violence and international forces still not fully deployed, that level has not been reached."

A two-week wave of violence in Bangui last month left at least a dozen people dead. Since then the capital has been tense but calm. In the past few days, however, about 1,000 ex-rebels at a camp in the city have been refusing to leave or surrender their arms. They say they will blow up an ammunition dump at the camp if there is any attempt to move against them by force.

Most of the country is controlled by armed groups. While French and United Nations peacekeepers have prevented potential massacres, Human Rights Watch has documented 146 deaths in several districts from June to September. HRW says that is only a fraction of the likely total of casualties.

The U.N. mission MINUSCA, which was an African Union mission until September, has gotten used to complaints that its troops are not active enough.

MINUSCA spokeswoman Myriam Dessables told journalists this week she wished the mission had a magic wand to extend security everywhere. She said the process is ongoing, though, and the troops working with the U.N. mission are determined.

Seeking political solution

Ikouebe, speaking at the Contact Group meeting, said members have been trying to persuade rival factions in the C.A.R. to agree on a political solution and voluntary disarmament.

"We got a cease-fire agreement signed in Brazzaville, but unfortunately it was not respected, and so far there is neither a political deal nor a deal on disarmament," he said, adding, "That is necessary for the U.N. peacekeepers to do their work.”

He emphasized there is a chance for C.A.R. leaders to reach those agreements at a forum to be held in Bangui in January, so the government needs to make up for lost time and start organizing a forum.

"Initially we thought we could have preliminary phases of the forum throughout the country, in 16 districts, but three months have been lost, and now there is only time to hold a consultation in the interior, while the forum will be concentrated in Bangui," said Ikouebe.

The Congolese minister was alluding to months of politically paralyzing disagreements among the country's president, prime minister and president of the parliament.